Senate Approves Driver’s Licenses For Undocumented Immigrants [Hartford Courant]

May 31, 2013

Article as it appeared in the Hartford Courant

Malloy Says He Will Sign The bill

By DANIELA ALTIMARI, [email protected]
12:54 AM EDT, May 30, 2013

With the Senate’s endorsement early Thursday, Connecticut joined a small but growing group of states that allows undocumented immigrants in the U.S. to obtain a special driver’s license.

The bill to allow driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants, which the Senate approved 19-16 with two Democrats joining the Republican minority to vote no, is expected to be signed into law by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

Connecticut is home to 120,000 undocumented immigrants, according to the Pew Hispanic Center; roughly 54,000 could qualify for a driver’s license under the bill.

Supporters say the measure is a public safety issue. Undocumented immigrants are already driving, but in many cases, they lack the proper training. They are also more likely to drive unregistered — and uninsured — vehicles.

“It seems to me that it’s in the interest of all Connecticut citizens to have safe, registered, insured drivers on the roads,” said Sen. Andrew Maynard, D-North Stonington. “This is a common sense, public-safety-oriented bill.”

Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney said the bill is a pragmatic solution to a public safety issue. “These residents are our neighbors, our co-workers,” he said. “They want to be responsible, they want to be licensed.”

The measure won’t take effect until Jan. 1, 2015, an unusually long lead time meant to give the state Department of Motor Vehicles a chance to work out the specifics and modernize its computer system.

“We’re going to make it work,” DMV Commissioner Melody Currey said. “If the legislature passes it as a policy, it’s our duty to make that work.”

One detail still to be worked out: How would DMV officials verify the authenticity of the foreign passports, visas and other documents that applicants would have to present to obtain a license? The bill calls for a task force to answer such questions, but Currey concedes that, in some cases, DMV staff won’t be able to confirm an applicant’s identity.

“We are issuing the right to drive,” Currey said. “We’re not verifying they are who they say they are … that’s why [these licenses] can’t be used for identity.”

The licenses granted to undocumented immigrants will carry a notation signifying they are only for driving purposes.

During the lengthy debate in the Senate, Republicans railed against the bill on philosophical as well as practical reasons. They said the bill was rushed through the legislature by the Democratic majority in both houses, without undergoing the usual scrutiny that comes with a vote at the committee level.

“I think we have more homework to do,” said Sen. Michael McLachlan, R-Danbury. He characterized the legislation as “a feel-good” proposal that was filled with opportunities for abuse and chastised his colleagues for trying to use state laws to set federal immigration policy.

“There’s a lot of people in this country who want the federal government to fix the immigration problem in America,” McLachlan said. “But fellow state senators, that’s not your job.”

Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, cited a poll that shows the public disapproves of the idea. She also questioned the fairness of granting a new right to those here illegally. “The concerns raised by many immigrants that have had to wait their turn and go through proper channels that took years to navigate are very real and very compelling,” she said.

Other critics expressed concern over the cost. It is expected to cost the state $1.3 million in 2015 to hire 18 DMV workers to handle the new license applications. However, that cost would be offset by an estimated gain to the state of $1.5 million in 2015, and $2.8 million in 2016 in the form of additional fees paid by the newly licensed drivers, according to the legislature’s nonpartisan fiscal office.

With passage of the bill, Connecticut joins a national movement. Similar measures were introduced this year in at least 14 state legislatures, including Nevada, Colorado, Vermont and California, according to the National Immigration Law Center. Illinois and Oregon recently enacted laws allowing undocumented immigrants to get a license.

“The tide turned this year,” said Tanya Broder, senior staff attorney with the center. “This is very much a part of the national conversation on immigration reform and the need to integrate immigrants in our economy and our communities more fully. It’s an outgrowth of changing demographics and the growing political power of immigrants but also a recognition that it makes sense from a public safety [perspective].”

New Mexico and Washington states already permit undocumented immigrants to obtain licenses; Utah grants a “driving privilege card.”

Currey, Connecticut’s DMV commissioner, said she is studying the successes and shortcomings of programs in other states.

Critics in New Mexico say that state’s law, passed in 2003, invites fraud. Republican Gov. Susana Martinez repeatedly has pushed for its repeal, but each time, her drive has fallen short, although officials added 12 security features and an additional layer of oversight on all applications by foreign nationals. About 85,000 immigrants have received a license in New Mexico.

In Connecticut, undocumented residents would be required to present two forms of primary identification – either a valid passport or one that expired less than three years before, or a valid consular document – or one primary form of ID as well as a secondary ID – a valid license issued by another state or country, a certified school transcript or a baptismal certificate, among other documents.

They would also be required to present proof that they live in Connecticut, by providing a piece of mail, a pay stub, a property tax bill, a mortgage document or school records. And they would be required to file an affidavit stating that they intend to seek legal citizenship. The DMV also would conduct a check to ensure that applicants have not been convicted of a felony in Connecticut.

Upon passing the written test for a license, undocumented immigrants would be mailed a learner’s permit, which Currey said was another safeguard to ensure the applicant lives at the address provided to the DMV.

Those measures do not satisfy the critics.

“I’m not sure the proof of identity in the bill goes far enough,” said Sen. Rob Kane, R-Watertown.

But Maynard said the task force will ensure Connecticut has the tightest regulations.

“I don’t think DMV is ever accused of … quickly pushing people through the system,” Maynard said. “With all due respect to Commissioner Currey, DMV still has a very laborious process, even for those of us who are long-standing citizens of this country. They are very methodical.”

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